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Olive Cotton

Olive_Cotton.jpg

Olive Cotton | Australia 1911–2003 | Plum blossom 1937 (inscr. 1935) | Gelatin silver photograph | 32.5 x 23.6cm | Purchased 2005. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Olive Cotton, 'Plum blossom', 1937

Olive Cotton
Australia 1911–2003
Plum blossom 1937 (inscr. 1935)
Gelatin silver photograph
32.5 x 23.6cm
Purchased 2005. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Olive Cotton

Plum blossom 1937 (inscr. 1935)

Olive Cotton received her first camera as a birthday present in 1922, and by the early 1930s she was exhibiting professionally. In 1934 she joined Max Dupain’s studio, which she managed while he was on war service in the 1940s.

In the late 1930s, Cotton developed a keen interest in the traditional artistic genre of still life. Her skill in selecting, arranging and capturing familiar objects is exemplified by Plum blossom 1937 (inscr. 1935). The photograph is a study in light and shadow, focusing on a single stem from a flowering plum, a hardy tree grown throughout her hometown of Sydney.

The asymmetry of the composition and its dramatic lighting are characteristic of Cotton’s approach to photography in the 1930s. Her approach was indebted to Pictorialism, a style of photography that dominated Australian practice in the 1920s. This style was typified by the use of soft focus, atmospheric effects, and references to Japanese art. The photograph is also strikingly modernist: by positioning the blooms against a starkly lit background, Cotton has transformed them into abstract, almost artificial elements.

When Olive Cotton moved to rural New South Wales in 1946, her work largely fell from view, but she re-emerged in the 1980s as one of Australia’s foremost modernist photographers.